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Treating the Whole You, Not Just Your Lung Disease

(November 5, 2014)

Lung disease can take a toll on a person’s quality of life. Whether you are facing lung cancer, COPD or another type of lung disease, you probably experience physical symptoms and emotional stress that make it harder to keep up with your everyday activities. The good news is that there is a type of care specifically designed to help you feel your best while facing lung disease. Palliative care, sometimes known as supportive care, is a specialty in medicine focused on treating the symptoms, pain and stress that accompany serious illness. It is appropriate from the moment you are diagnosed and throughout the entire course of your illness.

Palliative care expert and Clinical Director of Thoracic Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Jennifer Temel, says “Many people confuse hospice and palliative care and believe palliative care is only for patients who are near the end of their life or in the hospital.  However, any patient with a serious illness can receive palliative care, even if they have only recently been diagnosed with their illness.  Studies in patients with cancer actually show that patients starting palliative care early in their illness have better management of their symptoms and improvement in their mood. Any patient with a serious illness should consider palliative care, especially if they are struggling with their illness.”

How does palliative care work? A team of specially trained palliative care doctors, nurses and other health professionals work with your pulmonologist and other medical specialists to make sure that you and everyone else are “on the same page” and that your physical and emotional needs are being addressed. This might mean prescribing medication for pain management or shortness of breath, recommending you seek out complementary therapies like massage or even providing counseling to help you work through the stress of coping with lung disease.

How do you get palliative care? Communication is a key part of managing lung disease. The first step in getting the care you need is to speak with your doctor sooner rather than later. Your doctor may be able to provide a referral. You can also search for a palliative care specialist at www.getpalliativecare.org.

Every person deserves the extra layer of support palliative care can provide. This COPD and Lung Cancer Awareness Month, put a focus on feeling the best you can and talk to your doctor about palliative care. For more information, call our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA.

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